Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) uses a magnet instead of an electrical current to activate the brain. First developed in 1985, rTMS has been studied as a possible treatment for depression, psychosis and other disorders since the mid-1990’s.
Clinical trials studying the effectiveness of rTMS reveal mixed results. When compared to a placebo or inactive (sham) treatment, some studies have found that rTMS is more effective in treating patients with major depression. But other studies have found no difference in response compared to inactive treatment.
Sometimes a person may have discomfort at the site on the head where the magnet is placed. The muscles of the scalp, jaw or face may contract or tingle during the procedure. Mild headache or brief lightheadedness may result. It is also possible that the procedure could cause a seizure, although documented incidences of this are uncommon. A recent large-scale study on the safety of rTMS found that most side effects, such as headaches or scalp discomfort, were mild or moderate, and no seizures occurred. Because the treatment is new, however, long-term side effects are unknown.
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